As a groom for Ashley Holzer, Gallagher has mastered the art of the flawless turn-out, and she shares a few tricks to help others do the same.
As groom and barn manager for Canadian Grand Prix dressage rider Ashley Holzer, Denielle Gallagher keeps a barn full of show horses looking and feeling their best, including star performers Pop Art and Jornello. She also worked with Gambol, who was sold to a rider in California, and longtime friend Imperioso, who passed away in October of 2006. In addition, Gallagher also gets her own Prix St. Georges horse Gallaway’s Abrikos, a 16-year-old Russian Warmblood gelding, to the ring polished and on time.
Why is a well-groomed horse important?
A well-groomed horse says many things: No. 1 it shows that the owner and/or caretaker pays attention to detail. I notice whether the horse is feeling under the weather, ill, or if the horse is jumping out of its skin. As a groom you may want to make your rider aware of that before she gets on; it can change the workload. Ashley and I are always talking about how the horse feels. It helps me understand what to feed them, if they need more turnout, etc. I also notice things like sore backs and swollen legs. Also, when I see a perfectly turned out combination, it says a lot about the professionalism of the team or barn.
What do you do in your daily grooming routine to make things easier on show day?
Curry, curry, curry! Taking the time to curry each day will make it easier for you to have a shiny horse at the show grounds. The more you curry, the softer the hair particles become, which makes them smooth. This also removes any dead skin cells and helps to bring the oils of the coat to the surface, hence giving them a shiny gleam. Doing things like clipping the legs, tail and ears before you leave for the show cuts down on things that would take extra time in a busy situation.
Also, having all your brushes and blankets clean helps to keep the horse as clean as possible. In our barn each groom has her own grooming box. This contains everything she will need to have each horse turned out perfectly. Each groom has one set of brushes that are washed regularly. If a horse gets fungus or a skin irritation then we will separate and disinfect the brushes.
I usually put my brushes in the washing machine or dishwasher. It works perfectly, and then I let them air dry; just the regular detergent works great. For the blankets I brush them off with a metal curry, which scrapes all the shavings, and then hang the blanket on the door perfectly clean. As far as washing, I use Tide cold water formula. I try not to wash blankets in hot water so they do not shrink.
When you buy the nice white shipping halters, they only stay white so long. After we ship and they get dirty I put them all in the washing machine on delicate. I wash them in cold water with Woolite, then hang them to dry. Once dry, I take a dog brush and groom away—they look brand new every time!
What grooming tools could you not live without?
A hoof pick is always good, to clean out the horse’s feet in the stall before you exit. This saves on sweeping time. And, of course, a dandy brush and a soft one for the horses’ faces. A metal curry has two uses—not only is it good for improving the circulation in the skin but also for scraping the shavings off the blankets. I think that if you notice your horse is sensitive you have to use it lightly, not pushing too hard. If I notice a horse may not like it, I use it gently, and they come to enjoy it.
After bathing at the end of the day, once the horse is dry, I will take the horse out of the stall and put oil on the hooves first. I use something with no petroleum, which clogs the pores; I use Effol or Birdsall’s Farrier Barrier. This gives it time to sink in while I groom them again.
I take a rubber mitt and go over the whole body: head and ears, legs, stomach. They love it. This is great to do the day before you show—they will be so shiny! Then I use a nice soft brush and smooth the coat. Finally I bandage if needed. Grooming gives you time to spend with the horses. Sometimes when you are crazy in the day with showing you don’t have time to get the bond that is so important.
What are your favorite grooming products and why?
Cowboy Magic. I usually wash the horses’ tails a couple times a week, then put Cowboy Magic in the tails. You are guaranteed not to pull any hairs out!
Do you have any tips for getting white markings white?
I always keep the hair short on the legs; this way when you wash the horse you can dry the legs with a towel and they are so white. This also helps with horses that are prone to scratches; if you keep the legs clipped and dry you won’t have that problem.
With long hair it is really hard to get the white sparkling and also to get the legs dry, therefore things stick to them, especially the urine in the stall. I usually use a whitening shampoo, and then just before the horse goes to the ring I might also put on baby powder and then dark hoof oil; this shows a brighter contrast. Tea tree oil shampoo gets anything white; Lucky Braids makes a great tea tree oil shampoo.
Do you have suggestions for making riding boots really shine?
A good arm! I find if you buff riding boots really well you can get a great shine. You can also melt the boot polish in the lid from the tin, using a lighter underneath it until it melts, and then put it on. I always use Kiwi brand. An old pair of soft pantyhose used as a buffing rag helps too.
Denielle Gallagher works as groom and barn manager for top international dressage rider Ashley Holzer of Van Courtland Park, N.Y., and is herself a competitive FEI-level rider.
Gallagher takes care of Holzer’s show barn in New York City as well as teaching at Ramapo Riding Centre in Suffern, N.Y., also owned by Holzer and her husband Rusty. Gallagher’s fiancé, French show jumper Bertrand LeGriffon, is the manager at Ramapo.
In March of 2007, Gallagher, 27, a native of New Brunswick, Canada, was a member of Team Can/Am SSG Gloves, performing in the six-horse freestyle that won the PhelpsSports.com Challenge of the Americas in Wellington, Fla.
One day after the winning Quadrille, Gallagher received word from Dressage Canada that she had been selected to represent Canada at the Sydney, Australia CDI Invitational in May. In this annual event, held at the site of the 2000 Olympic Games, each invited country sends two riders to compete at the Prix St. Georges level on borrowed horses. Gallagher brought home the team silver medal.
Gallagher learned all the basics from her parents and also participated in Pony Club.
“We had to write exams and work a lot on stable management,” she said. “But Ihave to say most of the ‘tricks of the trade’ I learned from Juergen Von Butler. He was the first person I worked for when I left New Brunswick to work with horses. He opened my eyes to a whole new world of show horses. He was a mentor to me. When I came to work for Ashley I was able to use all the tools he taught me and incorporate them into a program that worked well with Ashley’s horses.”
Do you have any tips for braiding?
Always wash the mane before you braid; nothing is worse than having nice braids with a layer of gray in between. From day to day I try to always have the mane lying flat and even on one side. I feel this makes the horse look more groomed.
Before the horses are ridden I take a dandy brush, dip it in water, shake it out and brush over the mane. This helps train it to stay in place. Before I show I wash it. Then, of course, it becomes slippery—when I braid I use a spray bottle with Quic Braid in it, which helps to have a grip on the mane without it being dirty. Straight water helps too; this also helps your braids to look tight and neat.
Make sure when you pull the mane that it is not too short. You should practice with the length that is easy for you to braid; that way when you get to a show you are not in a panic. I have had that happen—very stressful! I always carry a spray bottle and wet each section as I do it; this helps to keep braids very tight.
What last-minute touch-ups do you make before your horse goes in the ring?
I take off polos and wipe down the legs and neck. I like to make sure that when the polos come off, you do not see that “ring” around the ankles from the dirt. I think this could be distracting.
Depending on the horse I usually give some sugar or Wonder Mouth, a product that is basically honey and water. You can put this in the mouth to encourage the horse to suck on the bit. It can also help to get the mouth foaming. When wiping down the horse’s head, always be careful not to wipe the mouth. You want as much slobber as possible—this could insinuate that the horse has a supple mouth.
Last but not least I load up the fly spray. Sometimes one little fly could mean the difference between winning and losing!
When you ride do you have a groom, or do you do everything yourself? If so, how do you get yourself to the ring looking picture-perfect?
When I am riding horses that are in our training program, I have someone to tack them up and take care of them. In our barn each groom is responsible for a certain number of horses. This way the groom notices if a horse is not drinking normally, or if the horse has something wrong with him. So when I ride one of those horses the groom assigned to that horse stays with him.
When I show my own horse, Gallaway’s Abrikos, for example, I have to be very organized. I have to work backwards from when I want to be on at the ring. Then I figure out how long it will take me to groom him and let him pee before I get on. I also think how long it will take me to get dressed and before that, how long it will take me to braid him.
A few things that help to make this faster, as I am also trying to run a show barn, are polishing my bits the night before, putting my numbers on the saddle pads, and sort of laying everything out so that I can run in and put it on.
Do you have a grooming “pet peeve?”
Dust. I always put a light scrim sheet on after I groom the horses, for waiting in the stall or walking to the ring. I work so hard on getting a super shiny coat, this helps when the horse goes out. I take the scrim off just before the rider gets on, and voila! Picture perfect.
I also find that a scrim is a good way to advertise for our barn and/or sponsors. I will leave the scrim on as Ashley walks to the ring—she sits on the edge of it so it does not fall off—and people see it on the way to the ring, and while she walks into the warm up she keeps it on. Before she trots, I check the girth and take off the scrim.
At a show, how do you keep things organized, especially if you have a few horses to groom?
Routine is important for keeping organized, and also I find it makes a difference with how the horses perform. Sticking to the plan helps. When I pack for a show and I am traveling far with Ashley, I always put things in my trunks in order of when I will need them; this way I don’t have to turn everything upside down trying to find things. Always putting things back in their place helps too. Sometimes when you are busy it is hard, but at the end of the day it is always good to take a few extra minutes to regroup for the next day.